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Flooded Unity, Derry Township, Latrobe residents want answers

| Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Latrobe Company No. 3 firefighter Nick Stewart (center) and Rick Rupert (left) discuss strategy to unclog the drains on Raymond Avenue in front of a stranded vehicle on Aug. 28, 2013, near the Latrobe and Derry Township line.

Carol Striker has lived in the same house on Unity Street in the Lloydsville section of Unity for 32 years, so she was prepared when heavy rains last month poured 4 12 feet of water into her home's basement.

“I don't keep anything down there” except the furnace, washer and dryer, she said Saturday. The furnace is elevated 3 feet off the basement floor in an effort to protect it from flooding.

“That's where it has to go. I'd hang it from the rafters if I could,” Striker said.

As much as 2 12 inches of rain was dumped throughout Unity, Derry Township and Latrobe on Aug. 28, bringing a “major” amount of water into her basement for the sixth time since 1992, Striker said.

The computerized portion of the furnace was damaged and had to be replaced, and “the dryer's a little iffy,” she said.

She and other residents are trying to get answers about possible stormwater drainage and flood prevention measures, but some remedies could require the cooperation of the Department of Environmental Protection, PennDOT and one or more municipalities.

Striker was among several residents who spoke about the problem at the September meeting of the Unity supervisors. They said that sediment buildup in Unity Run, coupled with debris accumulation by the bridge over the creek, is causing the flooding.

Dan Schmitt of the township's engineering firm Gibson-Thomas Engineering said at the meeting that state regulations dictate much of what municipalities can do.

The bridge is maintained by PennDOT. The creek is also the state's responsibility, and the banks are managed by property owners.

“Unless the township owns property that abuts the creek, they can't touch it,” Schmitt said, adding that the DEP no longer allows dredging to alleviate sediment buildup.

“I'm telling you this, and you're shaking your head. Well, when we tell (the DEP), we shake our heads because we're bound by those regulations.”

Derry Township Supervisor Dave Slifka agreed.

Slifka, who had 16 inches of water rise up his basement stairs, oversees the Bradenville section of the township near the border with Latrobe along Raymond Avenue, where a stormwater drainpipe could not handle the volume of water flowing to it.

“It's a complex situation. ... It's not just one municipality, not just one entity,” Slifka said. “There's something that has to be done ... to lessen the amount (of water) that's coming down there.”

Latrobe City Manager Alex Graziani addressed the flooding that affected two dozen homes there in his monthly manager's video blog, saying that part of the problem was a lack of planning for stormwater management.

“When the town was laid out, there wasn't a lot of thought given to where we would be in 2013 as it relates to stormwater or stormwater management,” he said.

The city and other municipalities have difficulty in funding projects to update and replace those systems because no utility is dedicated to it, Graziani said.

Kathy Hamilton, stormwater technician with the Westmoreland Conservation District, said the countywide organization has been working with New Alexandria for the past three years as it updates its sanitary sewer system to include stormwater management solutions, such as paving alleyways with porous asphalt.

“When it rains, it drains through, and it doesn't cause water flowing off the alleyway into people's yards,” Hamilton said.

Other measures such as planting trees and developing rain gardens can help get the water back into the ground faster to avoid overwhelming drainage pipes.

“We're trying to mimic the natural water cycle,” Hamilton said. “What people like to do is put it out of sight, out of mind and put it into pipes.”

Slifka said that while municipalities and other agencies work to come up with a solution, he hopes that flooding won't happen again anytime soon.

“They (residents) have reason to be concerned, but that storm was really out of the ordinary,” he said.

In the meantime, Striker is waiting to fix a basement door damaged by the water and plans to attend Thursday's meeting of the Concerned Citizens of Unity Township, where a representative from the office of state Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, will take questions along with Unity Supervisor Mike O'Barto.

The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. in the township building.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or